On Wednesday, Time Magazine named Greta Thunberg person of the year. Reaction to her naming has been mixed. While some still consider climate change the greatest threat of our time and Thunberg its champion, others are calling foul. After all, besides gaining a large social media following, lecturing world leaders and leading protests, she really hasn’t achieved anything tangible yet. It’s seemingly another sign that Time Magazine and others are mistaking leftist ideology for greatness, heroism and change.
Surprisingly, The Washington Post and Reason both agree. The publications voiced their belief that either the Hong Kong protestors, the Trump administration whistleblower or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are more deserving of the honor. After all, as some said, these other groups represent the fight for democracy. Greta Thunberg, not so much.
While it is great to see a young person so passionate about a topic, and spending less time on a cellphone, her results at this point are tenuous at best. Although she’s testified before Congress and led protests with four million people participating, she still hasn’t achieved any of her goals yet (at this point that’s probably a good thing).
As Time reports, “The politics of climate action are as entrenched and complex as the phenomenon itself, and Thunberg has no magic solution. But she has succeeded in creating a global attitudinal shift, transforming millions of vague, middle-of-the-night anxieties into a worldwide movement calling for urgent change.”
Time argues that she has been able to get world leaders to verbally support some of her ideas and shame those who are not. But will that actually change the world? Probably not. Anyone who is familiar with global politics knows that nothing really happens unless the hands of a particular government are forced. There’s too much good sense at play to overly indulge Thunberg’s ideals.
Her honor echoes the decision by the Nobel Prize Committee to award former U.S. President Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 simply for being elected president. While there is nothing wrong with awarding and recognizing those who strive for peace, regardless of their political party, he was awarded the prize for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people” while serving less than a year in office. Even the former Secretary of Peace later admitted that giving the Nobel Peace Prize to such a new president was a “mistake” and “it didn’t achieve what (the committee) had hoped for.”
There is a great place for these types of prizes and rewards in our society. It reminds us of some of the best and most influential news stories of the previous year. I’ve had the chance to work with one of the “Ebola Fighters” awarded in 2014, Dr. Kent Brantly, and witness stateside much of the fight to contain Ebola firsthand. People risked their lives and physical and mental health battling a disease that robs people of their dignity and results in a truly excruciating and horrific death. He deserved that honor, as did every other Ebola fighter that year.
Time has a long tradition of mostly choosing people who represent great influence and change. The first award winner of Time’s person of the year was Charles Lindberg, the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic. A truly historic feat. Other honorees included Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Chiang Kai-shek, Wallis Simpson, Winston Churchill, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George Marshall, Elizabeth II, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Mikhail Gorbachev, George W. Bush, Rudy Giuliani, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and many others. While not all of these people are “great” in terms of policies or actions, many did change the world in profound ways.
At this point in her career, Thunberg is a premature choice for this award. Yes, she may change the world and be incredibly heroic one day, but I don’t think it’s her time yet. In this instance, the decision by Time just seems more like it’s driven by ideology rather than achievements, influence or heroism.